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Fri 15 Feb 2013 11:23 AM

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Kuwait human rights on decline, says HRW

New Human Rights Watch report says conditions deteriorated in 2012 during political crisis

Kuwait human rights on decline, says HRW
Kuwait opposition supporters take part in a protest in al-Ogailah district, south of Kuwait City on February 5, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)

Human rights conditions deteriorated in Kuwait in 2012 during an ongoing political crisis, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in its World Report 2013.

The US-based organisation said security forces used what appeared to be excessive force to disperse stateless bidun residents and anti-government demonstrators on multiple occasions, and authorities briefly banned protests in October.

It added in the report that government prosecutors charged at least 25 people, including online activists and former members of Parliament, with speech-related crimes such as “offending the emir” and “misusing electronic devices” for posting remarks on Twitter, or giving speeches during anti-government protests.

The government should drop those charges, Human Rights Watch said, adding that it should also address the citizenship claims of bidun, and protect migrant workers by ratifying the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

“Kuwait’s political crisis had a negative impact on the country’s human rights record as security forces cracked down on protests and the government grew intolerant of dissident speech,”said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“The government should reverse this trend in 2013, by dropping all speech-related charges against online activists and former members of parliament, and finally addressing the bidun’s outstanding claims.”

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab uprisings.

The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.

Following continued political turmoil following elections in 2012, Human Rights Watch said the government used force, tear gas, and sound bombs to disperse at least four protests between October and December, and beat protesters while arresting them.

The government justified the use of force against protesters on the grounds that they blocked traffic and threw stones at the police.

The HRW report also said authorities consistently prohibited bidun from organising demonstrations.

“The bidun community has waited for many years hoping that the authorities will follow through with their countless promises to address their citizenship claims,” Houry said. “The government should speed up the process of addressing the citizenship claims of bidun.”

In June 2011, the government voted to adopt the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Convention 189), which establishes global labor standards on domestic work.

However, the government has not taken any steps to ratify the convention or improve the treatment of an estimated 660,000 migrant domestic workers, HRW added.

“Kuwait needs to follow through on the commitment it made in 2011 to protect domestic workers by ratifying the convention and reforming its laws in line with the international standards,” Houry said.

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